The New York Knicks have rarely had a lot of success in the last few years. Consistent losing seasons and NBA Draft lottery entries have been the norm. Things are so bad, Knicks fans like me, typically find one little glimmer of hope to cling too. This usually comes in the form of a bench player, mid-season pick up, or draft pick. From Steve Novak, Jeremy Lin, Tim Hardaway Jr, we find one player to excite the fan base. This year, the unlikely rise of one Immanuel Quickley has excited the fan base and given us a reason to have more than hope this NBA season. But before we anoint IQ the savior, we need to put him in perspective and not into the starting lineup… yet.
The Knicks have gotten off to a surprising and encouraging 9-12 start in the 2020-21 campaign. While most people scoff, you have to understand how historically bad it’s been in New York. Last season, the Knicks didn’t win their 9th game until game 33! One of the big reasons for this is the emergence of Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley. A 2020 NBA draft day trade with Oklahoma City Thunder that went mostly unnoticed has quickly turned into a draft steal. Quickley was projected as a second-round pick in the draft, but the Knicks traded up to get the Kentucky product. The Knicks staff saw something in Quickley, and this has been repaid with season averages of 12.4 PPG / 2.5 APG / 2.2 RPG off the bench.
Even though Quickley was drafted as a shooting guard, Quickley is looks to be the better option at the point guard position than Elfrid Payton. Payton’s plus/minus is just erratic, and he’s season averages sit at 11.6 PPG / 3.8 APG / 3.6 RPG. But Payton’s averages are over 28 minutes per game compared to 18 minutes per game for Quickley. Quickley’s player efficiency rating is 18.79 compared to 10.77 for Payton. But Quickley is young and has moments where his youth shows with turnovers, shaky shot selection and defense. Do we want to push IQ as a starter so quickly just because it looks nice on paper?
But head coach Tom Thibodeau has mentioned that he has no plans to put Quickley into the starting lineup, that he gives the Knicks a lift off the bench. Quickley does put strong numbers, but they are mostly against the second units of opposing teams. But he plays well with the second unit, something that might hurt the team by taking him off that lineup. Can IQ handle the class of starting point guards in the league night in and night out? We are talking about the Curry’s, Lillards’, Westbrook’s, Paul’s, Irving’s, etc. What would that do for his confidence and growth? Let he learn and have success early so you can build a strong foundation for the future. What matters most to me, and smart fans, is not if Quickley starts the game, but if he finishes. If he’s going well, he’s an instant spark can help close out the game.
Quickley is learning a new position and a new league. He’ll hit a rookie wall eventually and will have to learn to adjust. Him starting the game makes no difference because he’s playing the most important minutes. Closing the 4th quarter and meshing with RJ Barrett and Julius Randle has been one of the biggest surprises this season. They have visions of a big 3 dancing in our heads. IQ has gotten praise from Paul George and even got to talk to Damian Lillard to get advice on his impressive start. If Thibs knows he’s giving the team the best chance to win then IQ will play. The future is bright, and we have a long time to watch Quickley develop and eventually earn that starter’s position.